Day4FloodingAerials bf 1317.jpg

Aerials of severe weather flooding in East Baton Rouge Parish on Monday August 15, 2016. A National Guard vehicle turns west on Prescott Avenue off of N. Foster Drive. Looking south southeast.

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG < p>

Researchers have collected reams of data since last summer's flood, and now LSU has assembled a group of academics and professionals it believes can translate that information into new policies for political leaders.

The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine as well as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on Tuesday awarded the team nearly $3 million to study flood recovery and long-term resiliency.

Various flood mitigation strategies have been proposed in Louisiana — better infrastructure, more wetlands mitigation, higher building elevations, moratoriums on floodplain construction, a switch from slab-on-grade construction to piers. But, Jeff Carney, who will lead the LSU effort, said he isn't ready yet to commit to any specific course of action.

"It's not simply bricks and mortar," said Carney, who is also the director of the Coastal Sustainability Studio at LSU.

As people continue to migrate away from the shrinking coast, inland leaders need to be prepared to house their growing populations, he said. "If we're going to keep developing Baton Rouge, we just have to do it better."

He said the team will have to consider how to incorporate mitigation into other urban amenities. For instance, the Center for Planning Excellence has suggested urban designs that include more rain gardens and semi-permeable pavement.

Carney's team includes scientists, planners and architects to tackle a project he said is "pretty complicated." For example, the state is working to create a new, high-tech hydrological model of the Amite River flood basin, and an LSU civil engineer working on that effort will also contribute to the resiliency group.

But there's also a psychologist, a social worker and others Carney expects to give a more complete insight into the human cost of disaster.

Floods often impact the overall well-being of people who live through them, he said. Perhaps one way to measure that would be to look at children's school success before and after the flood, he suggested.

A separate LSU study that received $2.5 million Tuesday will specifically look at mental health issues related to disasters.

Cecile Guin, director of LSU's Office of Social Service Research and Development, also plans to collect data from flood victims. Working with Carney's team, she wants to learn how to better help people make decisions before, during and after a disaster.

Guin said she intends to ask homeowners if they thought their houses were at flood risk, what preparations that had made, if they would move into their homes again if they could do it all over, and whether they'll stay now.

She also needs to know how to encourage orderly evacuations when needed and what pressing questions weighed on the community during and after the flood so her team can recommend to local leaders how to keep people safe during the next emergency.

"This flood really caught everybody off guard so much," Guin recalled.

"So what kind of information can we get back from the victims of the flood to avoid this type of situation in the future. … Because we know it's going to flood again."

Baton Rouge was not the only community to receive funding Tuesday. Researchers in New Orleans claimed $2.3 million to study housing and disaster vulnerability in seven south Louisiana parishes.

Urban Institute senior fellow Carlos Martín wrote in an email that his study will look at whether homeowners were informed of risk factors when they bought their houses, hazard mitigation funding, the flood insurance market, protective storm water infrastructure in residential areas, and community hazard planning.

Elsewhere on the coast, University of Georgia researchers will study how to improve disaster resiliency among communities of Cambodian and Laotian descent living on the coast of Alabama.

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.